In what is being seen by environmental activists as the first victory to save the Krishna river in Wai town in Maharashtra’s Satara district, the Dhom Irrigation Subdivision has issued an order to the Wai Municipal Council to stop concreting of the bank opposite the revered Ganpati temple.
“We had alerted the Water Resources Department, which immediately reached out to the folks in the Dhom Irrigation Department. An order to stop the concreting was issued on May 29,” said Wai-born architect Makarand Shende, the president of environment NGO Samooh. The order says that the work is in a forbidden area within the blue line, where construction was prohibited by a government notification on May 3 this year. The order says the construction must be stopped to avoid the danger of flooding.
Chief Officer of the Council Prasad Katkar said they had stopped work, but they would take permission from the Irrigation Department and resume work in just two days.
Katkar said they plan to finish the work in two months, for which they have Rs 65 lakh allotted. The work is crucial for religious tourism for which Wai is famous. They are looking for a long-term and practical solution to the unsightly bog, stink and mosquitoes.
“There is open defecation and garbage dumping on this area. This work is important because tourists who come to the Ganpati temple ultimately blame us for the mess,” he said. The work will include concreting 2,300 square feet of the river bank, and transporting the sewage entering the river to a point outside the town limits of Wai, through pipes. The sewage, however, will ultimately be dumped into the
Krishna river unless the WMC gets funds for their sewage treatment plant project. The concrete bedding will also have grooves as an outlet for any spring water rising from below.
The concreting, which is opposite the main Ganpati Temple, was begun with gusto on May 26. After a few days of work, the entire patch has been covered with stones and soil. Katkar shared that this work was permitted according to Wai’s development plan.
Though the project was proposed in 2014, the work was stalled. The work was resumed this month, after which a group of 20 activists, lead by Shende and including Jalbiradri and JeevitNadi, had presented their opposition to the construction at the General Body meeting of the WMC on May 19. The activists had urged the civic body to drop the project citing unsustainability and illegality and discuss alternatives with them. They believe it is essential to prevent such work in view of the rapid riverfront “development” that is coming up on different rivers.
Jeevitnadi’s Director Shailaja Deshpande exasperatedly explained that the reason an unpalatable bog gets formed there, raising a stink and becoming a place for mosquito breeding, is the sewage outlet just above the patch.
“We were telling them to give us time, we would give them a design that does not disturb the natural ecosystem so that there is no bog and the place becomes available for public utility. Concreting was just not an option!,” said Deshpande. Besides Deshpande feels that public utility on this particular patch is not a daily concern, because people who come to Wai for darshan at the Ganpati temple, which is on the opposite side of the new construction.
While talking of the several alternatives that exist, Deshpande said, “There are multiple ways to mimic nature. We could make an open gym there, and we could plant grasses that are useful for purification, mosquitoes and beautification.”
Nevertheless, the project was begun. “Why are you treating the symptom and not the cause?,” rues Deshpande, adding that there is a need to treat the sewage, not lay concrete. To top it off, the concreting is in the base flow of the river, which should never be touched, says Deshpande.
But Katkar says the activists haven’t offered any concrete solutions for this civic problem. “We invited them several times, still they haven’t given us alternatives,” he said, adding that the money will be sent back if it is not used by December 31. “The activists were aware that this work is going to be done, so they should have put in their proposals when the tendering process was open. Even now we are inviting them on our panel, but they haven’t come,” said Katkar.
Vijaya Bhosale, a social worker and an ex-BJP office bearer in Wai, also does not approve this construction. She shares that the river used to be very clean and added, “Now with construction, it will get dirtier, this is just a way to make money. They will get so many restrictions on nature.”
Ultimately, Deshpande remarks that the beneficiaries of a project of this nature are someone else, not ecology or even the public. “People don’t know what the impact of this is, they don’t know the repercussions downstream. This could become a business if people don’t object,” says Deshpande.
The activists are also going to file a petition in the NGT to get a stay on the work, said Shende. He will be one of the petitioners along with Pun-based NGOs Jalbiradri and Jeevitnadi. The activists believe stopping this work is crucial because the flow of the river will be changed, which will be ecologically damaging. They are keen to establish that such plans of concreting the river banks do not become the norm.